Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another Five-Pack of Mini Reviews

I have unfortunately been neglecting my blogging duties - while still out gallivanting and watching tons of movies - and I offer five [mini] reviews as recompense. And as it is now June 30, I have two full months to become a better blogger.

In chronological order, I offer you:

(anglicized as The Intouchables)
Intouchables stars François Cluzet (who was incredible in Ne le dis à personne) and Omar Sy. It is based on the true story of a troubled young immigrant who becomes the live-in caregiver of a very wealthy quadriplegic. Normally, I am not a fan of films with the tagline based on a true story. To make a generalization, they try too hard to tug at the heartstrings and try too hard to end of an uplifting note. I will say that Intouchables is an incredibly touching film with terrific performances from the whole cast. Omar Sy is especially fantastic as Driss, an immigrant from Senegal who has recently been released from prison. Driss and Philippe (Cluzet) build a friendship that is equally important to each man. Philippe allows Driss to escape his past and start over again, while Driss is unwilling to let Philippe waste away and gives him reason to enjoy life again.

The opening scene of Intouchables, with Driss driving Philippe's Maserati at full speed through the streets of Paris, is one of the best openings I have been in a long time. I wish that the film had been better able to withstand this momentum. The story lags heavily towards the end and left me a little disappointed. The performances are beautiful and touching, but the film, directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, falls into the trap of other true stories.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.  

Safety Not Guaranteed
It did not take much to get me interested in Safety Not Guaranteed. It has from the same producers as Little Miss Sunshine and stars Aubrey Plaza (from TV's Parks and Recreation) and Jake Johnson (from New Girl). I do not know much about Mark Duplass, except that he is apparently the star of FX series The League. The film is apparently inspired by a classified ad which ran in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997.

The premise of the film is simple: Darius (Plaza) is a college graduate who lives at home with her father. She has been somewhat depressed since her mother died when she was in high school. She interns at a Seattle magazine, where one writer, Jeff (Johnson), proposes to investigate a classified ad looking for a time travelling buddy. Jeff takes Darius and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), to Ocean View, Washington to search for the man who wrote the ad. Jeff also has a secondary motive: to reconnect with a former girlfriend. The three discover that Kenneth Calloway (Duplass) wrote the ad. He is a strange man who works at the local grocery store. He is skeptical of Jeff, and Darius is forced to make contact with him. She is successful and the two begin to make plans to travel back in time together. Kenneth is also convinced that he is being tracked.

Safety Not Guaranteed, which currently holds a rating of 91% on RottenTomatoes, works until Darius and Kenneth become romantically intertwined. I had trouble believing the chemistry and the connection between these two characters. It left me underwhelmed. Mark Duplass currently has two films in theatres (the second being Your Sister's Sister) and if you are a fan of his work, I would really encourage you to check out the other option.

My rating: 2.75 stars out of 4.

Your Sister's Sister
Your Sister's Sister is the second directorial feature from Lynn Shelton after 2009's Humpday (which coincidentally also starred Mark Duplass). She has also directed episodes of Mad Men and New Girl.

Your Sister's Sister stars Mark Duplass alongside Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt. The story begins a year after Jack's (Duplass) brother's death. At a memorial with friends of his brother, Jack makes a few unappreciated comments which forces his best friend (and ex-girlfriend of his brother) Iris (Blunt) to serve an ultimatum. Iris tells Jack to go to her father's isolated cabin and spend some time alone, considering he is unemployed and has been floundering for a year. When he arrives at the cabin he discovers that is is not unoccupied, as Iris had told him. Her sister Hannah (DeWitt) arrived earlier that day. Jack had never met Hannah and the two have an awkward first meeting. We discover that Hannah broke up with her girlfriend of seven years and ran away to the cabin to be alone. Jack and Hannah, with the help of a bottle of tequila, end up having sex and are faced with some very difficult realizations when Iris shows up unexpectedly the next morning.

The film has a few funny moments, but Your Sister's Sister can mostly be defined as a drama. It is not a unique story. We have all seen films in which two characters are in love and have never admitted it aloud and one becomes involved with the other's sibling. But Lynn Shelton's screenplay and direction is sophisticated and features three sympathetic characters. Mark Duplass' awkwardness on screen works better here and Rosemarie DeWitt, who was crazy in Rachel Getting Married, Mad Men and United States of Tara balanced her crazy a little better here. And Emily Blunt is terrific. And thank you Lynn Shelton for commenting on her English accent!

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Lorene Scafaria wrote and directed Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, her second feature length film after Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World tells the story of a 70 mile wide asteroid on a collision course with Earth after every preventative measure has been exhausted. Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) is an insurance salesman whose wife left him when she heard the world is ending. Carell rarely plays lucky men (see The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Dan in Real Life (2007), Date Night (2010) or Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and I really think it is time for him to play a new character. I am a little tired of seeing him play the helpless loser. 

With the end approaching, everyone is either spending time with loved ones or looting and pillaging. Dodge's mother is dead and he is estranged from his father. He even went to work after hearing the world was ending. Through pure movie coincidence, he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), a woman living in his apartment building who has been collecting his wrongly-delivered mail for three years. It turns out that his first love wrote him a letter confessing love for him. And so Dodge and Penny head off in search of Olivia. They are foiled by her hybrid car, end up hitchhiking and meeting a trucker with a death wish, spend an awkward evening at Friendsy's (a T.G.I.Friday's wannabe) and get thrown in jail after a run in with an overzealous cop. The story works beautifully until Dodge and Penny have sex and we realize that they are going to fall in love. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley? Yup.

The final arc of the story is forgettable and full of overwrought cliches. Penny turns to an old flame for help. Dodge reunites with his estranged father. And through it all they face the end of the world together because they are in love. I do not get it. It did not make sense to me. 

My rating: 2 stars out of 4. 

Magic Mike
Pride Weekend in Toronto began with the opening of Channing Tatum's Magic Mike, the somewhat true story of his pre-film life as a Chippendale dancer. The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning director of Traffic (2000) whose cinematic taste has gone downhill ever since (see The Good German (2006), The Girlfriend Experience (2009) and The Informant! (2009). I am not sure if Steven Soderbergh, who once did sex well with sex, lies and videotape (1989), was the right choice for director. I think we all wanted a little more unabashed nudity and a little less awkwardly-paced storytelling. And who the hell decided Matthew McConaughey needed to be wearing a thong on screen? Did we all of a sudden venture back to when he was hot, circa 1996 in A Time to Kill? At least we had Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer. 

Mike (Tatum) is an entrepreneur. He manages a construction company. He makes custom furniture from discarded objects. And he is a stripper. He works as Magic Mike at Xquisite, a strip club managed by Dallas (McConaughey). While working construction, he meets the hapless Adam (Pettyfer) and after a random encounter on the street Mike takes him to the club and offers him $100 for backstage work. Adam eventually joins the team, which also includes Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello). Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is not impressed with his career choice, but Mike is immediately attracted to her. Mike has been trying to get bank loan for his furniture business but no one will give him money with his low credit score. As the months pass, Mike and Brooke become closer but Adam dives deeper into the darkness of the club, including selling drug's for the club's DJ, Tobas (Gabriel Iglesias).

Magic Mike feature much less gratuitous nudity than I had expected. There were a lot of nice asses, but not much else. Steven Soderbergh wasted a lot of time with backstory. And, as Siobhan will attest, the pacing was way off. And even though the film was co-produced by Tatum (and somewhat based on his life story), there was no evolution in terms of his acting ability. The only true highlight of the film (besides the hot assed Alex Pettyfer) is Olivia Munn. Her character had some great lines and I can now forgive her for Perfect Couples.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4 for the film, and 4 stars for hot men.

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